Challenges in Colombia's Changing Security Landscape, coordinated by Dr Jan Boesten

Dr Jan Boesten has coordinated a section in the Summer issue of Latin American Studies Association's Quarterly Newsletter based on a workshop run by CCW project ConPeace. The full LASA newsletter is available here.

Dr Boesten's section on "Challenges in Colombia's Changing Security Landscape" includes the following articles:

Toward a Shared Vision of Peace
Magali Alba Niño, Jan Boesten, Annette Idler, Juan Masullo, Arlene B. Tickner, Julia Zulver

De 310 páginas a una paz transformadora: El reto de la paz territorial en Colombia
Borja Paladini Adell

Notes on the Implementation of the Peace Agreement in Colombia: Securing a Stable and Lasting Peace
Juan Carlos Restrepo

Perspectiva de la sociedad civil de regiones marginadas ¿Cómo podemos empoderar a las comunidades locales para enfrentar los desafíos de seguridad?
Magali Alba-Niño

Abstract: The University of Oxford’s CONPEACE (From Conflict Actors to Architects of Peace) Program at the Changing Character of War Centre, together with Bogota’s Rosario University and the Simon Bolívar University in Cúcuta, organized a one-day, cross-stakeholder workshop in Bogotá prior to the presidential elections to discuss the changing security landscape in Colombia. The workshop brought together stakeholders from Colombia’s civil society (both urban and rural), the UNHCR (the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees) and the UN Mission to Colombia (as representatives of the international community), the national government, and national and international academics. This article explores some of the most important insights from our debates. Three points were essential: first, our understanding of security issues can benefit greatly from employing human and citizen security lenses that go beyond mere military presence throughout the national territory; second, the peace process with the FARC is not reversible and should be seen as an opportunity for the new government to create sustainable peace; third, the national government can learn from the collective action and community organizing of civil society in marginalized regions to improve long-term, people-centered security.

Henry Plater-Zyberk's book review of "Elite Warriors: Special Operations Forces from Around the World" by Pukhov and Marsh

by Henry Plater-Zyberk

“Elite Warriors” is an unusual book. It is a product of a respected Russian think-tank, Centre for Analysis of Strategies and Technologies (CAST), and published in English in the US. The book’s authors cover 14 countries: Russia, Ukraine, France, Germany, Italy, Poland, Iran, Israel, Jordan Turkey, China Singapore, Columbia and Algeria.

The Russian Reconnaissance Fire Complex Comes of Age

by Lester W. Grau and Charles K. Bartles

The Soviet Union, and now Russia, have long worked on the development of twin concepts for the detection and assured destruction of high-value targets in near-real time. The Reconnaissance Strike Complex (разведивательно-ударный комплех-RYK) was designed for the coordinated employment of high-precision, long-range weapons linked to real-time intelligence data and precise targeting provided to a fused intelligence and fire-direction center. The RYK functioned at operational depths using surface-to-surface missile systems and aircraft-delivered “smart” munitions. The Reconnaissance Fire Complex (разведивательно-огновой комплех ROK) was the tactical equivalent. It linked intelligence data, precise targeting, a fire-direction center and tactical artillery to destroy high-value targets in near-real time. The Soviets were making good progress in development of both systems before the Soviet Union collapsed. After a period of chaos and adjustment, Russia is back on track and modernizing her armed forces. Part of that modernization is the fielding of a functioning and renamed reconnaissance strike system and reconnaissance fire system. The reconnaissance fire system (разведивательнфая-огновая система ROС) has now been successfully deployed and battle tested and is part of Russian Field Artillery capabilities. In the words of Deputy Chief of Staff of Ground Forces, Major General Vadim Marusin, “Today the cycle (reconnaissance -- engagement) takes literally 10 seconds.”

Russia's Invincible Weapons: Today, Tomorrow, Sometime, Never?

By Julian Cooper

On 1st March this year Vladimir Putin finally delivered his long-awaited annual poslanie, or State of the Nation speech, to the Federal Assembly. With pictures and video clips Putin described six weapon systems that had been developed or were being developed in the following order, the 'Sarmat' heavy ICBM, a nuclear-powered cruise missile, a nuclear-powered and armed undersea drone, a hypersonic missile, 'Kinzhal', launched from a supersonic aircraft, the 'Avangard' glide vehicle for an ICBM, and a laser weapon of unspecified purpose.

Here each system will first be reviewed in detail in the approximate order of its likelihood to enter combat service. Given the secrecy that has hitherto shrouded most of the weapons, the information presented has had to be assembled from multiple sources. Then the reception of the poslanie will be considered, together with some issues arising from it, not least why it was delivered in the form it took.

Julian Cooper OBE is Emeritus Professor at the Centre for Russian, European and Eurasian Studies, University of Birmingham and Associate Senior Fellow, Stockholm International Peace Research Institute.

Hanna Notte Book Review: Dmitri Trenin 'What Is Russia Up To In The Middle East?'

Dmitri Trenin, What Is Russia Up To In The Middle East?, Hardcover: 144 pages; Publisher: Polity Press (27 Oct. 2017); Language: English; ISBN-10: 1509522301; ISBN-13: 978-1509522309. 

When Russia’s military intervention in Syria started in September 2015, there was an acute sense among Moscow’s policy experts that the Russian thrust into Syria’s battlefield could be a game changer – not only for the course of that war, but also for Russia’s foreign policy and relationship with the West writ large. Two years later, Dmitry Trenin, Director of the Carnegie Moscow Center, has produced an authoritative account of what drives current Russian foreign policy in the Middle East generally, and specifically in Syria.

The author begins with a brief yet instructive historical chapter, but rather than proceeding chronologically, he offers a theme-based analysis of Moscow’s engagement with the region – focusing on “War”, “Diplomacy” and “Trade”. The book’s stated objective of providing ‘a clear and evidence-based view of Russia’s involvement in the Middle East and its impact on Moscow’s broader foreign relations’ (p. 7) is met succinctly and eloquently in this enjoyable read.

Overall, Trenin applauds Moscow’s strategy in the region, arguing that it ‘has demonstrated that a combination of a clear sense of objective, strong political will, area expertise and experience, resourceful diplomacy, a capable military, plus an ability to coordinate one’s actions with partners and situational allies in a very diverse and highly complex region can go a long way to help project power onto the top level’ (p. 134).

Trenin is especially persuasive in identifying the overarching drivers of Russia’s new activism in the Middle East, stressing its geopolitical dimension and pragmatism in particular. Proceeding from the premise that Moscow has ‘no interest, no resources, and no intention’ to supplant Washington as the principal actor or security provider in the Middle East (p. 2), Trenin shows why the military intervention in Syria has ultimately been a “preventative” war for Russia. After Gaddafi’s removal from power in Libya in 2011, the author argues, Syria turned into Russia’s “red line” against perceived US-backed regime change in the Middle East, North Africa and beyond.

Yet, while Western pundits frequently assert that Russia’s Syria policy has deliberately marginalised the West, Trenin makes a compelling case for the centrality of status recognition to Russian foreign-policy thinking: ‘Although cheered by some Russians’, he contends, ‘the apparent US demotion has never been the objective of the Kremlin’s policy. Rather, Moscow needed Washington at its side to witness and confirm Russia’s reappearance on the global stage as a great power’ (p. 82). In that context, Trenin also analytically embeds Russia’s Middle East policy within a broader reorientation in Russian foreign policy doctrine, which since 2014 has conceived of Russia ‘as a major single unit unto itself’ in a greater Eurasian neighbourhood, which seeks US ‘respect and cooperation’, rather than to ‘dislodge America’s influence’ (p. 138).

Further, Trenin convincingly exposes the shrewd pragmatism in Russia’s engagement with Middle Eastern actors, whether in its diplomatic dealings or pursuit of commercial gain. The chapter on diplomacy offers especially compelling analysis of the Kremlin’s pragmatic balancing acts in the region, in what are nine “mini case studies” of Russia “double-dating” players with inimical bilateral relationships, such as Turkey and the Kurds, or Iran and the GCC. The author concludes by endorsing the Russian approach as successful, arguing that ‘Russia does not ignore the Middle East’s treacherous divides: it knows that falling into them can be fatal. It seeks instead to straddle them … is busy promoting its own interests with all its partners, fully aware of their own interests’. (p. 112)

In that context, my only criticism of Trenin’s analysis is that it may underestimate the danger of a Russian “mission creep” in Syria, while overstating Moscow’s leverage over regional players. As of early 2018, Russia still maintains a sizeable military presence in Syria, has deployed hundreds of military police to various “de-escalation zones”, and is enabling a regime offensive in the restive Idlib province in Syria’s Northwest, while it is yet to deliver on a viable peace process that engages both the regime and opposition. Trenin himself admits that ‘military action is only effective as long as it furthers a general political strategy’ (p. 86). But while he argues that ‘there was a close connection between Russia’s military operation and its diplomatic activity’ (p. 86) in Syria, that diplomatic activity is arguably yet to bear fruit.

On a related point, the author could have given more than just a fleeting acknowledgement of Moscow’s limited influence over Damascus and Tehran. Arguing that Russia ‘will probably work for a Syria free from foreign military presence, except its own’ (p. 97), the book falls short of providing convincing evidence that Russia has the leverage necessary to achieve this objective. This shortcoming also slightly weakens what is an overall convincing argument about Russia’s “tightrope walk” between adversarial Middle Eastern players: while Trenin indeed succeeds in showing that Moscow ‘has managed to deal with countries and groups that have often been inimical to one another’, he is less convincing in demonstrating Russia’s capacity to ‘sometimes bring [these groups] together as a public good’ (p. 86). Indeed, an ability to talk to all opposing sides in a conflict does not automatically translate into successful mediation, absent credible carrots or stick that Moscow can use in order to elicit concessions from conflict parties.

Though Trenin’s assessment of Russian leverage in the Middle East could have been more critical, he has nonetheless produced an empirically rich and sober account, which could not be timelier in countering with nuance the oft-hysterical claims that there is a robust Russian-Iranian alliance, or that Moscow seeks to oust the US from the region. By bringing out the pragmatic thrust of Russian policy in the Middle East, and carefully dissecting its different drivers, Trenin offers clear answers to those who ask: “What is Russia up to in the Middle East?”

-----

Hanna Notte consults the Shaikh Group regarding their Syria Track II Dialogue Initiative on matters related to Russia, having just submitted her DPhil on Russian foreign policy in the Middle East at the University of Oxford (St. Antony’s College), from where she also received an MPhil in International Relations in 2014. She has held visiting research positions with the Carnegie Moscow Center and the Institute of Oriental Studies in Moscow, the IISS’ Middle East office in Manama, and the Konrad-Adenauer-Foundation’s Syria/Iraq office in Beirut. Her research interests focus on Russian foreign policy in the Middle East (especially Syria, Iraq and Iran) and Russian-US relations.

© Changing Character of War Centre. All rights reserved. Material in this publication is copyrighted under UK law. Individual authors reserve all rights to their work and material should not be reproduced without their prior permission. The views and opinions expressed in this article are those of the author and do not necessarily represent the views of the Changing Character of War Centre, or the University of Oxford.

Review Essay by Carl Scott: 'Russia Military Power 2017' & 'Russian New Generation Warfare Book'

Review Essay by Carl Scott[1]

Russia Military Power 2017 – Building a military to support great power aspirations. Defence Intelligence Agency. Available at: http://www.dia.mil/News/Articles/Article/1232488/defense-intelligence-agency-releases-russia-military-power-assessment/

Russian New Generation Warfare Book.  Asymmetric Warfare Group, Fort Meade. Version 1, December 2016. Available at: https://info.publicintelligence.net/AWG-RussianNewWarfareHandbook.pdf

[1] Carl Scott served as the UK Defence Attaché in Moscow from 2011-2016, during which time he was awarded the CBE for his contribution to UK Defence Policy on Russia. Since departing the Armed Forces in December 2016, he has established a consultancy providing advice and insight into the former Soviet Space. © 2018 Changing Character of War Centre. All rights reserved. Material in this publication is copyrighted under UK law. Individual authors reserve all rights to their work and material should not be reproduced without their prior permission. The views and opinions expressed in this article are those of the author and do not necessarily represent the views of the Changing Character of War Centre, or the University of Oxford.

Commentary: The Terror Problem from Pakistan by Melissa Skorka & Rahmatullah Nabil

Commentary: The Terror Problem from Pakistan by Melissa Skorka & Rahmatullah Nabil

With the Trump administration considering how to break the stalemate between Taliban-allied groups and the government of Afghanistan, terrorists detonated a car bomb in Kabul on May 31, killing more than 150. Afghan intelligence blamed the violence on Haqqani, a terror network with close ties to the Taliban, al Qaeda and Pakistan’s spy agency, Inter-Services Intelligence...

'What would be the Ten Main Characteristics of a War between the United States and North Korea?' by Dr Rob Johnson

'What would be the Ten Main Characteristics of a War between the United States and North Korea?' by Dr Rob Johnson

What would be the Eight Main Characteristics of a War between the United States and North Korea?

A great deal of attention is currently focussed on the possibility of a conflict between the United States and North Korea, but what would be the character of a war between these powers if it actually broke out?  Recent conflicts and current military preparedness would only be a guide to the very early stages, and there are much more significant implications to consider. Here are ten possible characteristics for analysts to think through...

The First World War in the Middle East: 1911-1923. A Brief Report to the Globalising and Localising Great War Project

A conference was held at the Royal Military Academy Sandhurst and Pembroke College of the University of Oxford between 20 and 22 April 2016, to mark the centenary of the outbreak of the Arab Revolt and a critical stage in the First World War. It was wonderful to be able to bring together a great diversity of scholars from several nationalities and disciplinary specialisms, including cultural history, literature, Russianists, Arabists, and military history. If we needed any reminder that the First World War was a global war, then the range of papers and the cohering theme of the Middle East in the context of the conflict underscored it admirably. Resonances with the present also appeared throughout the conference. At a time when commentators talk of an era of perpetual war, especially with regard to the Middle East, our group of scholars set out to explore the period 1911-1923 and in doing so challenge and test the assertion that the conflicts of the present are the inherited legacies of the First World War.

The New Biafrans: Discussing Discontent

On March 8, 2016, Olly Owen’s public lecture for Changing Character of War (CCW) of drew unexpected attention. Owen, an anthropologist with Oxford’s Department of International Development, intended his discussion, The New Biafrans: Historical Imagination and Structure Conflict in Nigeria’s Separatist Revival, to be an exploration of history, memory, economics and politics in Nigeria’s southeast. The hope, Owen told CCW, was to prompt further investigation into the roots of the Nigerian independence movement, which has waxed and waned since the 1960s. 

Violent Non-State Actors and Complementary Governance: What ISIS, Hizballah and FARC Have in Common

In the absence of a strong state, insurgents, traffickers or tribal warlords may provide political and socioeconomic goods through arrangements we characterize as ‘complementary governance.’ When formulating an effective response to this security challenge, policymakers and researchers must account for the complex connections and interactions between multiple non-state governing entities.